Homebuyers Head To Florida During Covid, But Almost As Many Are Moving


David Gewirtz never got used to the heat, even after 15 years in Florida.

Still, Mr. Gewirtz, who grew up in New Jersey, and his wife, Denise Amrich, loved their adopted hometown of Palm Bay, Florida, and likely would have stayed without the “brutal” hurricanes.

“Looking at these tracking charts for weeks before a hurricane hits starts to create a level of stress,” said Gewirtz, a tech columnist in his early 50s. “It’s three weeks of wondering if you’re going to have a house at the end of it.”

The couple evacuated their home on the way to Hurricane Irma in 2017, continued to drive until they arrived in Oregon and decided to stay. They put their Palm Bay home up for sale.

Turns out Florida isn’t for everyone. But you would never know from the PR coming out of the state.

Amid the pandemic, Florida politicians and real estate developers have been promoting the narrative that hedge fund executives and tech workers, in search of hot weather and low taxes, are dropping New York in droves. and California and take root in Florida. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez used Twitter to publicly court Silicon Valley tech moguls, inviting Elon Musk to Miami for a talk about tunneling under the city. In December, when venture capitalist Delian Asparouhov tweeted a suggestion to move Silicon Valley to Miami, the mayor retweeted it to his supporters with the response, “How can I help?”

However, it is much less discussed that each year almost as many people leave Florida as they move in. They are fleeing hurricanes, heat and rising house prices. While Covid-19 has prompted some out of state to buy homes in Florida, the state’s population growth has slowed in the pandemic to its lowest rate since 2014, according to the November 2020 population estimate conference of State. Between April 2019 and April 2020, the state’s population increased by 1.83%, or 387,479 people. However, between April 2020 and April 2021, the population is expected to increase by 1.38%, or 297,851 people.

There were fewer moves to Florida from other states in 2020 than at any time in the past nine years, according to an annual study of migration patterns by national moving company Atlas Van Lines. The study also found that about 50% of Florida’s moves in 2020 were in and out, up from 60% in 2015. In contrast, in 2020, North Carolina had about 65% of inbound moves.

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Atlas data shows that in Florida, “as many people move in as move out,” said Barry Schellenberg, president and COO of Atlas Van Lines, “which surprised me a bit because that when you hear some of the reports about the number of people moving to Florida, I expected the number [of incoming moves] was going to be bigger. “

This may be news to the general public, but it comes as no surprise to demographers. Florida’s overall population has grown steadily for decades, but over the past 20 years, the state has also seen large numbers of people leave each year, many of whom return to their home states, a said Hamilton Lombard, a demographer at the University of Virginia. “A lot of people go out there and find out that they don’t like hurricanes,” Lombard said.

This fact is belied by the booming luxury real estate market in the state: Luxury home prices across the state have skyrocketed in the pandemic, in part due to the purchase of homes in Florida. by wealthy foreigners. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have reportedly paid $ 32 million for land on Miami’s exclusive Indian Creek island. They did not respond to a request for comment. “Rocky” star Sylvester Stallone spent $ 35.375 million on a waterfront resort in Palm Beach, months after selling his home in California. New York backer (and GameStop short seller) Gabe Plotkin has paid $ 44 million for two adjacent homes on North Bay Road in Miami Beach.

The market is particularly strong in Palm Beach, where former President Donald Trump now resides and which has become popular with financial executives. Palm Beach County saw a huge surge in home sales in February, with more than twice as many contracts signed on condos as the same month last year, and 95.4% more on single-family homes , according to a market report by Douglas Elliman.

Other areas of Florida, while seeing booming high-end sales, have a slow down market. In Miami-Dade County, for example, 197 contracts were signed for single-family homes over $ 1 million in January, more than double the 77 in the same month last year, according to a report by Douglas Elliman. During the same period, contracts for homes under $ 500,000 fell 56%. In the Naples area, there were 624 single-family home sales over $ 2 million in January, a 62% jump from the same month a year earlier, while sales under $ 300,000 fell 20%, according to data from the Naples Area Board of Realtors.

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Many of these high-end buyers already own homes in Florida, either as full-time residents or as “snowbirds,” realtors said. Despite the report that residents of the northeast are fleeing to Florida en masse, the state’s population estimation conference has found only a “very slight” increase in migration from the northeast since the United States. start of the pandemic, according to Stefan Rayer of the Office of Economic and Business at the University of Florida. Research. “It doesn’t really move the needle,” he said.

Of those buyers who are new to Florida, it is unclear how many will make Florida their full-time home and, if they do, how long they will stay. Peter Zalewski, founder of Miami real estate consultancy Condo Vultures, said he has observed over the years that many transplants in Florida don’t last long. “A lot of people don’t last longer than five years,” he said. “They are going home.”

Christopher Rim, 25, is one of the new arrivals who is unsure whether his move will be permanent. Founder of Command Education, a New York-based education and college consultancy, Mr. Rim usually meets clients virtually, so he decided on a whim in January to move to Miami from Manhattan. He spent two weekends looking for a condo in Miami. When he found a two bedroom with a balcony he loved in the Surfside neighborhood, he submitted an offer within hours, ultimately closing for around $ 4 million.

Mr. Rim said he viewed the business as an experience with living in Florida. “Now is the time to try it out, see how it is for a year or two,” he said. “I’ll probably be back in New York, but who knows?”

He put his two-bedroom, two-bathroom Tribeca apartment on the market for $ 3 million, but said he was in no rush to sell it. Meanwhile, he plans to open an office in Miami, but said his company will remain based in New York. “It’s just easier,” he says.

David Lowe bought this property in North Georgia after selling his longtime Florida home.

Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn for The Wall Street Journal

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Out-of-state buyers can spend a lot of money on properties in Florida, but many are also hanging on to homes elsewhere. 44-year-old interior designer Jessica Cunningham lives mainly with her husband and four children in suburban Chicago. They have vacationed in the Palm Beach area for years and spent even more time there during Covid. This summer they started looking for a house in the area to buy as a vacation property. They thought the market was “crazy,” the houses sold out within hours, she said. Finally, in November, they paid around $ 1.1 million for a three-bedroom house in West Palm Beach.

David Lowe at his home in Georgia.

Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn for The Wall Street Journal

They considered moving to Florida for good, but ended up not even keeping the house. By the time they finished renovating it, she said, they realized that “the market is so crazy we could make a profit.” A few weeks ago, they put the house up for sale for $ 1.45 million with Brown Harris Stevens’ Lilly Leas Ferreira and she sold it to an all-cash buyer at full price even before it was put on the market. market.

Meanwhile, that kind of rapid home price appreciation is one of the factors that caused people to leave Florida, said Glenda Nichols, a realtor at Barn Owl Realty in the mountain town of Ellijay in North Georgia. Since the start of the pandemic, Ms Nichols said she had noticed a 30% increase in the number of clients moving out of Florida, citing traffic, heat, humidity and rising housing costs in the area. Sunshine State. “You put it all together, and a lot of retirees come out of Florida and come to North Georgia.”

One of Ms Nichols’ clients, David Lowe, sold his longtime home outside of Sarasota, Fla. In 2019 for $ 375,000 and bought a similar-sized home on larger land in Georgia from the North for $ 180,000. A semi-retired metal sculptor, he spent an additional $ 50,000 to build an art studio on the wooded property. For now, he still has a small place in Florida, but in the next few years he plans to make Georgia his full-time home. From New England, he wanted a change from the flat Florida landscape and the “smoldering” weather. “I would wake up every morning like, ‘Now why am I still in Florida?’ ” he said.

Georgia and the Carolinas have become increasingly popular alternatives to Florida for retirees over the past 15 years, said Jon Rork, professor of economics at Reed College in Oregon. He said many northerners initially retreat to Florida, but end up returning home or moving elsewhere in the Southeast, becoming what are known as “half-backs.”

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Alan and Carol Ward moved to the Sarasota area from Massachusetts about eight years ago. But they found the summers “stuffy,” and they missed the four seasons, said Ward, director of planning and design firm Sasaki. This fall they purchased a four bedroom, 3 ½ bath home in the mountains outside of Greenville, SC, in The Cliffs at Glassy golf community. The region has distinct but mild seasons. Summer is “still hot in South Carolina,” Ward said, “but it’s not as hard or as long as in Florida.”

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